fiction, poetry & more

BRUTE TALLY

by Salvatore Difalco

“Are we winning?” the old guy next door asked me when I passed his porch.

“Looks like nobody’s winning, Bob,” I said.

He rubbed his white moustache and cackled. His dementia in check, he had stopped wandering away from the house he shared with his daughter, Lila, or trying to set fire to it. Lila gave me the evil eye when she saw me, I don’t know why. Maybe she didn’t like my face. “See ya later, Bob,” I said, on my way to meet my friend Mooch at Diego’s Diner, not my favorite place in town, but Mooch knew the owner from childhood and liked to throw him business.

He sat in a booth reading a menu when I arrived. He nodded and I nodded back. He said nothing until he finished surveying the menu. Then he handed me the menu.

“You hungry?” he asked.

“I can eat,” I said.

The blond waitress knew him and fluttered her eyelashes as he ordered bacon and eggs. “How do want your eggs, hon?” she asked, popping a small bubble.

“I want them well done as usual,” he said.

“Oh yeah,” said the waitress, “you hate goo.”

Mooch chuckled. “That’s right,” he said, “I hate goo.” I ordered the same but with my eggs over easy.

“Okay, hon,” she said with a raised eyebrow that gave me momentary anxiety. I feared she had made some kind of judgment about my order, my demeanor, or my appearance with Mooch. She walked off, wiggling her ample hips.

Mooch was staring at me. His face could easily be perceived as mean or menacing if you didn’t know him. He tapped the table with an index finger. “So do you have the money?” he asked.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Mooch,” I said.

“I asked you to meet me,” he said.

Good point. But I didn’t have the money and he knew I didn’t have it. I had just had my clock cleaned during a weekend football gambling binge where had I reversed all my picks I would have been meeting Mooch to collect a wad of cash. As it was, I owed him a wad of cash. The amount matters little as the value of currency changes with time.

“Well,” Mooch said, “this leaves me with a delicate dilemma. I’ve always considered you a friend.”

You too, I wanted to effuse, you too, Mooch, I have always looked upon you as a friend, But I feared that sputtering such verbiage would create the impression of needy weakness and turn Mooch against me.

“Do you propose any immediate solutions?” he asked.

“If my sister would answer her phone,” I said.

Mooch waited for a follow up, but with none forthcoming he sighed. Our breakfasts arrived and he ate his it without breathing. I found my bacon achingly salty and my eggs runny as snot.

“Look,” I said, “you know I’m good for the money. I’ve always paid up.” He ignored my comments and mopped up his plate with a piece of toast. “Give me a week,” I said.

“See,” he said, wiping his lips with a serviette, “the problem is I want to give you a week. Hell, I’d give you a month if it was possible. But I have bosses, man. And my bosses have been real sticklers of late, real assholes. See what I’m saying?”

You can’t squeeze blood from a rock, I thought, using a comfortable cliché to prevent a panic anxiety attack. “I don’t have the money,” I said.

Mooch stared at me and simultaneously snapped his fingers for the check. Then he shrugged.

“Mooch,” I said, “one week.”

He smiled and accepted the check from the waitress. “You owe ten bucks,” he said, “and give Molly a good tip, okay.” He threw a twenty on the table, put on his leather coat, and departed.

I sat there for a few minutes but didn’t finish my food. I paid the waitress and left her double what I’d normally leave.

“Mooch is a good guy, eh?” she said, snapping her gum.

“Yeah,” I said, “lovely.”

I walked home looking over my shoulder. I had been in the game long enough to know there were no free rides, that ultimately you were accountable for all your choices. “You did it to yourself,” I thought I heard a passing dog-walker mutter, but though the pooch shot me a dark look, the human did not follow up. I must have been hearing things. My brain was on fire. I had to calm down a little and try to figure out a real course of action and not this silly script I seemed to be following. I envisaged myself in a hospital bed in traction with my arms and legs in casts and my face the color purple.

Did I really think Mooch was going to jump me or break into my place and beat me to a pulp? No. I could probably take him mano a mano. He’d simply hire someone who worked people over for a living, who busted heads in order to extract what was owed, or at least to take the proverbial pound of flesh for it. That was a given. That was one of the pitfalls of the game. You could lose your ability to walk or resemble a cubist painting when all was said and done.

What is the point of this account? I like to keep a record of my short absurd life on this planet, and to keep sane, for by recording it I’m able to objectify it and detach myself from its reality and attribute to it my creative spirit, even if it is only a documentation of my actual life. Such was the chatter in my head as I rounded the corner to my bungalow.

“So, are we winning?” I heard Bob cry from his porch.

I wanted to walk up his porch steps, reach out my arms, grasp him around his skinny neck and slowly strangle him. That would have felt revivifying. But I’m not a violent man.

“Yeah,” I cried back, “so much winning.”

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Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto, Canada. His work has been published in a number of journals, including Cafe Irreal, Brilliant Flash Fiction and Third Wednesday.

December 2023